When Pets Don't Get Enough of The Right Kind of Protein
September 25, 2013
By Dr. Becker
A heartbreaking case at an animal hospital in North Melbourne, Australia offers another opportunity to warn pet owners about the dangers of feeding biologically inappropriate diets to cats and dogs.
According to the Herald Sun, this is a clear-cut case of “people ‘forcing ideologies’ on their pets.”
Kitten Fed Vegan Diet by Vegan Owners Nearly Dies at Animal Hospital
The presumably vegan owners of a kitten brought the little guy into the Lort Smith Animal Hospital in July. The kitten was in very bad shape. “It was extremely weak and collapsed when it came in. It was almost non-responsive,” according to veterinarian Leanne Pinfold.
As it turns out, the kitty’s owners had been feeding him a diet of potatoes, rice milk and pasta, rather than balanced, species-appropriate, meat-based nutrition. Predictably, this ill-advised “vegan” diet had caused the kitten to become critically ill.
Staff at the animal hospital provided the kitty with IV fluids, a heating pad, and meat to eat. He stayed in the hospital three days, and when the owners came to pick him up, they were given meat to feed the kitty at home.
Dr. Pinfold explained to the owners that as an obligate or “true” carnivore, their cat must eat meat to survive.
For Felines, Eating Meat Is Biologically Essential for Survival
Not all carnivores are obligate carnivores. In fact, most aren’t. But cats are. As obligate carnivores, kitties can’t digest plant-based foods efficiently, nor do plant-based foods provide the nutrients felines require.
Obligate means by necessity. Merriam-Webster.com defines obligate as “biologically essential for survival.”1
Obligate + carnivore = cats must eat meat to survive. This is because the protein in animal tissue has a complete amino acid profile. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Plant proteins do NOT contain all the amino acids critical for the health of obligate carnivores, and unlike humans who have the physiological ability to turn plant proteins into the missing pieces needed for a complete amino acid profile, cats don’t have that capacity.
One of the amino acids missing in plants is taurine, which is found in animal muscle meat, in particular the heart and liver. Taurine deficiency causes serious health problems in cats, including cardiovascular disease and blindness. Some cat owners believe they can feed their pet a vegetarian or vegan diet, and add a taurine supplement. In my opinion, this is the equivalent of eating nothing but iceberg lettuce and taking a synthetic multivitamin. That vitamin can’t possibly make up for all the nutrients missing from an iceberg lettuce-only diet.
The quality of the protein you feed your cat is also important. The biological value (BV) of a protein measures the bioavailability of its amino acid content. Better quality proteins have higher biological values, meaning they are easier for the body to digest, absorb, and use properly. Proteins from animal muscle meats typically have high BVs, whereas proteins from snouts, beaks, feet and tails have zero biological value because they are wholly indigestible.
Cat owners also need to avoid non-meat sources of protein, for example, soy and corn, as these are not species-appropriate foods for kitties.
Remember: It’s not just the amount of protein that’s important – it’s also the source (for carnivores it should be animal vs. plant-based) and bioavailability (fresh, unprocessed, preferably raw muscle and organ meat is ideal for healthy cats and dogs).
Why Carbs Don’t Cut It for Kitties
Cats aren’t designed to eat carbohydrates, and in fact, their bodies don’t produce the enzymes required to digest carbs.
The only carbs cats in the wild eat have already been digested by their prey. When a wild feline eats a prey animal, the stomach contents of the prey contain a certain amount of already digested carbohydrates. Your cat's digestive system isn’t designed to break down veggies to release the nutrients they provide.
Whereas plant-eating omnivores and herbivores have slower digestion, food passes quickly (within hours) through the GI tract of an obligate carnivore. That's why your kitty is designed to eat relatively small amounts of highly digestible, energy packed food that provides optimal levels of vitamins, minerals and micronutrients. In other words, animal meat.
Dr. Pinfold who treated the kitty in North Melbourne, expressed to the Herald Sun that people who don’t want to feed meat to their pets should consider non-carnivorous pets, for example, rabbits.
She made the additional excellent point that:
“Concern for animal welfare has to include a biologically-appropriate diet. You can't force your ideology on the cat.”
I absolutely agree. As I’ve mentioned often here at Mercola Healthy Pets, I’m a vegetarian and so are many of my clinic clients and pet-loving friends. But we feed animal products to our dogs and cats because we understand the importance of nourishing our pets as nature intended. If you can’t bear the thought of feeding meat to a meat-eating animal then please choose to care for vegetarian species that align with your personal eating habits.